Imagine yourself surrounded by loved ones on the eve of holiday celebration. Children are laughing and running around with joy. The family chefs are busy whipping up a delicious meal, swatting at sneaky hands trying to steal food before it’s ready. As you settle into a comfy chair, soaking in the warmth around you, a speaker clicks on, and Michael Bublé’s mesmerizing voice begins to fill the air:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light.
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight.
The atmosphere is perfect.
Except, of course, for the fact that the holiday in question is Independence Day. Steaks are sizzling on the Barbie, you’re trying to sunbathe on the porch, and somebody has the unholy nerve to play Christmas music in July.
Even on December 24 with Christmas just hours away, the thought of such a terrible act probably makes you want to scream. Society can’t quite decide if Christmas officially starts the day after Thanksgiving or December 1, but what we do agree on is that Christmas trees, stockings, and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” are not welcome year-round. As the argument goes, Christmas music loses its magic if it is played too often. Confining the holly jolly-ness to a limited season is intended to keep the songs special.
Unfortunately, I have to respectfully disagree.
Before you write me off as a heretic, let me clarify my definition of Christmas music. I refuse to play “Jingle Bells” or “Up on the Housetop” all year long because songs about Santa and snowmen ought to be limited to the final six weeks of the calendar. What I listen to 365 days a year is more appropriately titled Christmas worship music. Songs such as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “Mary Did you Know?,” and “Silent Night” are different because they proclaim truth about the nature of Jesus Christ. It would be silly if we only sang resurrection-focused songs like “Forever” and “Glorious Day” from the beginning of Lent to Easter Sunday, and I find it a little bizarre that we do the same to “Christmas” worship songs simply because they primarily focus on Jesus’ birth.
In fact, the more seasonal music I incorporate into my personal worship, the more I’ve come to appreciate the powerful theology found in the music played in public malls during Christmastime. My favorite is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Refresh yourself on some of the lyrics from the classic Christmas hymn, and I think you’ll see what I mean.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Baby Jesus did not give us victory over the grave while lying in his comfy manger crib. He did not disperse the gloom of God’s people oppressed by spiritual tyranny or make Death flee in terror. The sweet little Jesus boy wasn’t the one who intercepted us as we marched blindly toward Hell. It was not until decades after that silent night in Bethlehem that Jesus would accomplish what the song illustrates. The manger was a critical stepping stone to something more: the empty tomb. It was not infant Jesus, but resurrected Jesus, with scars in his hands and feet, who defeated Death and gave his people victory over the grave. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is not merely a holiday song: it is a resurrection song. It’s a message of praise we should be singing on Easter morning: Rejoice! Rejoice because our victorious God is with us!
Sadly, I doubt worship leaders will ever be convinced to include “Oh Holy Night” in a February set list. That’s okay. The wonder of the Nativity is indeed a thing to be revered. Christmas is a consecrated time to celebrate when God, who exists outside of time and creation, willingly stepped into time and creation as a helpless baby. As with all musical worship, it is neither the style nor the words themselves that matter most, but rather the heart of surrender that accompanies it. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” can remain a Christmastime treat while still influencing worship year-round.
Though often forgotten, the narrative of Jesus’ birth is part of the overall Gospel narrative. Without a theology of Christmas, there can be no theology of Easter. Before the ground began to shake and the stone was rolled away, shepherds quaked at the sight of Glories streaming from heaven afar. Nativity songs must precede resurrection songs, and our hearts must always sing their words, no matter what season it may be.
Written by Savanna